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Bobby Paunetto, New York City and The Synthesis of Music



The Modern Sound of Bobby Paunetto

Bobby Paunetto was an unforgettable composer, arranger, musician and recording artist. Latin Jazz Network honors him on the tenth anniversary of his death (8.10.10).

His real name was Robert Vincent Paunetto, but most people knew him as just plain Bobby. He was born in New York City on June 22nd, 1944. He received his initial musical training in New York City as an adolescent and later studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston (1969-1973), where he majored in Music Composition. 

The Modern Sound of Bobby Paunetto

The Early Years

Those who knew Bobby in his formative years agree that he was destined to become a successful composer, arranger and musician. Of course, he managed to do all of the above, emerging in 1968 as a recording artist, releasing his first album, El Sonido Moderno on the Mardi Gras records, a subsidiary of the Roulette label, owned by the legendary record mogul Morris Levy. It would appear that by the “showbiz” standards of the era, this was not a major deal; nevertheless, it was a first step in an illustrious career in music, and what a first step it was!  Mardi Gras was the first label to record the Joe Cuba Sextet, but Levy had somehow lost that group to another label. The small group format, with the vibraphone as the lead instrument, was very much in vogue in those years and Mr. Levy needed a group that would compensate for the loss of such a stellar combo. El Sonido Moderno wasn’t all that successful in terms of sales, but in terms of art it was a real gem, in that it brought together some of the rising stars in New York at the time.

The musicians for this album were pianist John Marrero; alto saxophonist Art Ferrero; bassists Fernando Oquendo and Henry Zapata (the latter on “Mambo Sevilla” only); lead singer Tony Centeno; tumbador (conga drummer), Tommy López; John “Dandy” Rodríguez on percussion; timbaleros Ray Cruz and Ray Miranda (the latter on “Mambo Sevilla” only) and trap drummer Jimmy Centeno. Together, these guys cooked up a unique blend (for its time) of American pop, Cuban dance music and jazz.

El Sonido Moderno

Original Recording; January, 1968 (Mardi Gras 5030)
Produced by Pancho Cristal (real name Francisco Morris Pelsman)

Tracks list – 1. Aguantando; 2. Mi Flor Tropical; 3. Is It Tasty?; 4. Alfie; 5. Why Is Woody Sad?; 6. Mambo Sevilla; 7. El Señor Sid; 8. Dig It Like This; 9. Chinatown; 10.Pero Dime Tú.

Personnel – Bobby Paunetto: vibes and marimba; John Marrero: piano; Art Ferrero: alto sax; Fernando Oquendo: bass; Tony Centeno: voice, pandereta (tambourine), calabaza; Ray Cruz: timbales; Ray Miranda: timbales on “Mambo Sevilla”; Tommy López: tumbadoras (conga drums); Jimmy Centeno: trap drums; John “Dandy” Rodríguez: bongoes, cowbell and tumbadora; Henry Zapata: bass on “Mambo Sevilla”

During the course of time this album would fade into obscurity and remain largely forgotten (the subsidiary label was de-activated) and subsequently the album became a collector’s item. After all, it was primarily a dance album, and dance trends were constantly changing. Prior to this recording, in 1965, Bobby had also recorded some tracks for the Seeco label, owned by Sidney Siegel (who had somehow managed to lose the Joe Cuba Sextet back to Mr. Levy). 

The 1965 sessions were pretty much in the same vein as Bobby’s Mardi Gras recordings. Two of these selections, “Something for O.M.” and “Mambo Sevilla” were originally done as demos in 1963. The following year he recorded “Aguantando” as an instrumental, again as a demo, but it was never released (he would later re-record it for the Mardi Gras album, this time with vocals). His efforts were not in vain, and they soon came to the attention of Bronx-born record executive Howard Roseff, who convinced his cousin Sidney Siegel to put twenty one year old Bobby Paunetto on his roster of artists. Seeco records harbored an enormous catalog of music from throughout Latin America, but particularly Cuban music.

The Seeco 45’s never made any kind of impact on the dance scene, nor did they sell, obviously, as there was never a follow up album. They were recorded live, as most recordings were back then, and were merely a prelude to the great body of work that Paunetto would produce in the following decade. Bobby stayed in contact with Mr. Roseff, who died in 2012, just two years after Bobby’s passing.

Invariably, the initial recordings by Bobby Paunetto – as with many of the era’s forgotten heroes – were a joyous mix of straight ahead mambo, son montuno and guajira, interpreted majestically by a young man who had only been playing his instrument for three years. Even at this early stage in his career he was able to select the cream of the crop for his limited project; for the ostinato bass tumbaos he called on none other than former Machito sideman Bobby Rodríguez; all around percussionist Johnny “Dandy “Rodríguez was featured on timbales; Frankie Malabé was the bongosero (bongo player) and Jimmy Centeno was the rock-steady tumbador (conga drummer). For the piano chair he chose Sonny Bravo, a relatively new person on the scene, but one who would later rise to stardom in his own right. For the vocal section he chose some of the most seasoned veterans of that period; Willie Torres (Joe Cuba Sextet), Santos Colón (Tito Puente Orchestra), Chivirico Dávila (Pérez Prado Orchestra and Alegre All Stars recording artist). 

The Seeco 45 RPM Sessions

The Seeco 45 RPM Sessions

Originally Released in 1965 (Seeco Records)
Arrangements by Bobby Paunetto

Tracks list – 1. Olvidado; 2. Aquí Voy Yo; 3. No-Van-Co; 4. Mi Paso; 5. De Mi Amor; 6. Guajira Dulce;

Personnel – Bobby Paunetto: vibes; Bobby Rodríguez: bass; John “Dandy” Rodríguez: timbales; Frankie Malabé: bongoes, percussion; Jimmy Centeno: tumbadora; Sonny Bravo: piano; Willie Torres: lead vocal; Santos Colón: background vocal; Chivirico Dávila: background vocal.

Recently, all of the early recordings by Bobby have been put together and re-packaged in CD format (what else?) under the original name of El Sonido Moderno. Most of the popular Cuban genres are represented here, with a touch of New York City r&b/soul.   

“Aguantando”, “Why Is Woody Sad?”, “Mambo Sevilla”, “El Señor Sid” and “Dig It like This” are all Paunetto compositions. “Mi Flor Tropical”, “Is It Tasty?”, “Chinatown” and “Pero Dime Tú” are co-authored with some of his sidemen. Worthy of special mention is the Hal David, Burt Bacharach original “Alfie”, an instrumental bolero that features Bobby playing the melody and improvising as well. “Alfie” was the love theme from a very popular motion picture that was released in 1966. He articulates beautifully on this one, and his melodic touch on the vibes is reminiscent of both Cal Tjader and Milt Jackson.

“Bobby Paunetto was as unique a person as anyone with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing with. The often overused phrase, “ahead of his time” certainly applies to him. The melodic/harmonic content of his compositions/arrangements always seemed to bring a smile to my face! Of course, Bobby himself always had that smile on his face when he played his own music; the smile that wryly told the rest of his colleagues, “That’s what I’m talking about!” Bobby Paunetto: A true scholar and a gentleman.”
– Sonny Bravo, pianist, arranger and bandleader

Bobby is also featured (elsewhere) on the modern-day marimba, an expanded version of the traditional chromatic Amerindian instrument which bears the same name. All the arrangements were written by Bobby and the only non-musician involved was Pancho Cristal, listed as A&R* man. Bobby Paunetto was a formidable instrumentalist, excelling on the vibes, admired and respected by two of the icons of that instrument; Cal Tjader and Louie Ramírez.

*A&R stands for “Artists and repertoire” and is the title given to the person in a record company or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters. Some A&R people were actually musicians, but mostly they were just tight with the owner and loved to be around musicians. This was the case with Mr. Cristal, whose real name was Francisco Morris Pelsman.

“I have watched Bob Paunetto perform and I have listened to his music with growing admiration. During the last five years both his talent and his repertoire have blossomed into what it is today. It is with much joy that I write a few notes about this young vibraphonist, now back on the scene after having finished his service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Prior to serving on active duty, Bobby recorded a few sides for the Seeco label. Notwithstanding, he had been absent from the scene during a substantial amount of time and thus his name was not well known. Prior to his induction – and from time to time – I would urge Bobby to sit in with my band on vibes and he would gratify us with his presence. Ultimately, I was the fortunate one, in that he subsequently invited me to be part of his latest recording session. Of course, I was pleased to see and hear how he had grown musically, developing both a unique sound and a proper foundation for today’s Latin American market. So now, I ask that you not only listen to, but also dance to the emotionally packed music of Bobby Paunetto and his band.”
– Tito Puente, who also played vibes wrote the liner notes for Bobby’s Mardi Gras album
– Translation from Spanish by Chico Alvarez Peraza

The Bronx, circa 1960’s

The aforementioned album, El Sonido Moderno de Bobby Paunetto – recorded in 1968 – was full of wonderful short dance tunes that would have pleased mambo lovers from Havana to Monterrey, culminating with “Pero Dime Tú”, a fast paced montuno-descarga that went on for six and a half minutes. Perfectly suited for the most demanding Palladium goers, as well as for up and coming salsa neophytes, it featured the excellent percussive work of Tomás López, the lively piano solo work of John Marrero and the harmonious vibes of Mr. Paunetto. Veteran mambero Johnny Rodríguez was on hand to play the bongoes and the cencerro (cowbell). The lyrics were handled by drummer and vocalist Tony Centeno and they alluded to the closing of the famous Palladium Ballroom a couple of years earlier (May 2, 1966); “pero dime tú, que es lo que pasó, yo quiero saber, por qué se acabó”. It is explosive in its Afro-Cuban element and color, and a really fun way to end a dance album. The rhythm section here was nicely rounded out by Fernando Oquendo on bass and Ray Cruz on timbales. 

Also featured on this recording was alto saxman Art Ferrero. Ferrero was what we might call the dark horse, albeit rising to the occasion, just as Paunetto had expected him to do. Bassist Henry Zapata was featured on the groovy “Mambo Sevilla”, as was Ray Miranda on timbales. Practically all of the material was penned by Bobby, with the exception of “Alfie”, and there were some tunes that he collaborated on with Marrero and Centeno. Both the Seeco and the Mardi Gras sessions were re-issued in CD format in 1999, with liner notes by Miles Perlich of Codigo.

The Man

Bobby Vince Paunetto was born in New York on June 22nd, 1944, into a family of Italians and Spanish Catalans who eventually made their home in a middle class section of the Bronx. As children, Bobby and his two older brothers would often listen to their mother sing tangos and watch her dance the lindy hop. When Bobby was but five years old his mother took him along to an audition (she was an aspiring dancer) at the famed Roxy Theatre (demolished in 1960), where he first saw the fancy footwork of Fred Astaire, no doubt getting a first-hand glimpse into the world of American show business. Undoubtedly, it was at this point that the young lad began acquiring a taste for music. In later years, she was also very helpful, writing the Spanish lyrics for his initial recordings. But English was the main language that was spoken at home, and because American radio meant everything to the post-war generation, it exposed Bobby to just about every type of music possible.

Radio DJ Jocko Henderson
Radio DJ Jocko Henderson

Young Bobby was introduced to jazz very early on, when he heard popular DJ “Jocko” Henderson’s radio program on WOV (changed to WADO in 1959). Most likely, it was on one of these shows that he first heard Charlie Parker, an event that changed his life forever. For him, Parker had conquered the speed of light, and would forever be his favorite alto sax man. On the other end of the musical spectrum were those lively Cuban dance rhythms, which had somehow made their way into the lives of Charlie Parker and so many other bebop jazz stars. It was – as pianist René Leyva would often say to me – fusion without confusion. It was Bobby’s older brother Raymond who would ultimately help him to make the connection. Raymond would go dancing at the Palladium and whatever he would pick up from watching the great bands of the day, he would share with his younger brother Bobby. But as fate would have it, it was neither Bird nor the Palladium that would lead him to a career in music. It would be his athletic prowess.

The Right Time at the Right Place

Bobby Paunetto was a natural born athlete. In fact, so athletic was this young man that in 1959 he was awarded and recognized as one of the top young athletes within the New York Public School system. Not long afterward he and some of his fellow basketball team mates were invited by the Police Athletic League to a concert at the Yorkville Casino in upper Manhattan. The year was 1961 and the performing jazz artist at that event was none other than Cal Tjader. One of Bobby’s friends, saxophonist Pat Patrick, introduced him to Cal, and the two immediately hit it off. At the close of the evening, Cal offered Bobby his telephone and address in California. Not much is known as to their conversation, but obviously Bobby had made some points with Cal, because the following year Mr. Tjader released his first Verve album In A Latin Bag (1962). It was for Cal, the culmination of many years of melding two distinct idioms, Jazz and Cuban music. Even today, many folks who are “in the know” have hailed that album as Cal’s crowning achievement. Included in that album was a piece that he (Tjader) had composed in honor of Bobby Paunetto. That tune was “Pauneto’s Point” (Pauneto spelled with only one n).

The Years of Woodshedding

Mild-mannered Cal Tjader had lit the flame and it was up to Paunetto to carry the torch. Not only did Tjader inspire Bobby to take up the instrument, but it was Cal – along with percussionist Johnny Rae – that also provided him with his first set of vibes. That same year Bobby bought his first piano and started composing his own material.

Sports had by now taken a back seat to his new passion and he submerged himself in all aspects of the music. He studied ardently; theory, composition, orchestration, harmony, and he practiced his instrument up to seven hours a day. It would take him little over a year to become a professional, and as fate would have it  – once again – he managed to open up for his friend Cal Tjader in 1963 at the Embassy Ballroom in New York City. Bobby Paunetto was now groovin’ in mambo heaven.

The Times They Were a Changing

It was August of 1965 and once again fate would intervene; Bobby Paunetto was drafted into the armed forces, serving honorably until 1967. Upon his return to civilian life – and to his beloved New York – Paunetto sought out some of his old cohorts and was soon doing gigs in and around the city. Strangely, he could not help but notice that the old Cuban sound of mambo and cha cha chá had been replaced by a hybrid dance form known as “latin boogaloo”.  I won’t go into the who, what, where and why of it, but suffice to say that by 1967 there were boogaloo bands in every borough of the city. The older and more established bandleaders were not at all pleased with this new form, yet they began to include boogaloos in their overall repertoire. Collectively, they knew that as a genre it would eventually have to disappear, so they nonchalantly went along with it.

So Let’s Do it!

1967 was the year that pianist Pete Rodríguez released “I Like It Like That”. It was an instant hit and set the bar for the remainder of the decade. Not wishing to be left out of this new money-making pop craze, Bobby Paunetto decide to incorporate the soul-montuno blend into his own format, but instead of just rehashing the same old chord changes and vocal melodies, he dug deep into the jazz idiom, as Cal Tjader himself had already done with his crossover hit “Soul Sauce”. He did not overlook any of these fine points when he began writing the music for El Sonido Moderno. Bobby’s own blend of soul sauce was both tasty (con sabor) and hip (jazzy), yet it produced two adverse effects. First, it resulted in being way too sophisticated for the record buying audience of the day. Top selling artists such as Pete Rodríguez, Johnny Colón and The Lebron Brothers had put special emphasis on raw, uninhibited vocals and a hard driving backbeat (influenced no doubt by that joyous-soul-stirrin’-gospel sound), bolstered of course by a stompin’ party atmosphere. Clave was not totally lost, but it did take a back seat, and all those fancy Palladium style steps were no longer “the thing”. The new audience was a happy let-it-all-hang out crowd, and the hybrid music mirrored that audience. It was a pre-curser to what would later come. It was latin rock in the making, sans the cool jazz element.

Secondly, the lack of promotion that was (not) given to the album was a determining factor in the lack of sales. Spanish language radio was no longer the domain of Alegre, Panart, Seeco, Tico, RCA, Decca, United Artists and Columbia Records. The airwaves in NYC were now being controlled by Cotique and Fania. The radio deejays were now speaking in English and there were new labels popping up left and right. El Sonido Moderno was considered good music by most musicians, but the dancers were not buying it, not in the middle of a dance craze that was sweeping the charts. The next three years would see a few subtle changes, but the truth of the matter was that Latin jazz had begun to wane – but not for long.

Latin Boogaloo: R.I.P.

It was indeed a fad, a youthful, trendy kind of phase that began winding down around 1969. Traditional Latin American dance forms did prevail and the boogaloo bands started going back to the roots. Arsenio’s classic son montuno and guaguancó combination was now being played again, thanks to Orchestra Harlow, Charlie Palmieri and Johnny Pacheco. The big bands of Tito Rodríguez, Machito and Tito Puente played on with the old stand-by mambos and cha cha chá’s, and despite a large Puerto Rican community, bomba, plena and other genres from that island were still not quite on the horizon – not yet anyway. Within such a huge crucible as New York City, these and other rustic forms would eventually meld to form a new and unique sound. The fruits of what Fernando Ortíz termed transculturation would begin to blossom in the following decades, but not haphazardly. Bobby Paunetto, whose background came from various immigrant groups, was taking notes. 

But Wait, There’s More

The Dominican civil war that began in 1965 kicked off a cycle of migration from that country into the U.S. and in particular to New York City. As the Dominican community skyrocket during the 70’s the island’s national dance, the merengue, began to see a rise in popularity within the hispanic community in general.

With the passing of several amendments to U.S. Immigration laws, 1965 also saw a large second wave of Colombian immigration into New York City, adding this particular group to the crucible of Latin Americans that were already here. Each subsequent wave of hispanic immigrants would invariably add their unique folkloric elements to the city’s soundscape. The Big Apple was indeed changing, quite rapidly, and musical tastes were beginning to change along with it. Right smack in the middle of all this musical conglomeration was the bebop jazz of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the afrocubano rhythms of Chano Pozo and Machito. Bobby Paunetto, still taking notes, must have at some point wondered out loud; will this amalgam swallow up the jazz that we loved so dearly? Will the record labels begin to cater exclusively to these new hybrid forms, undermining the rich jazz traditions of Gone City?*

*In the Book BLACK SLANG: A Dictionary of Afro-American Talk (Edited by Clarence Major, 1971) The word GONE (1940’s-50’s) means anything unusually exciting and good, sometimes to the extent of being unreal; in a trance; crazy.

Not one to be discouraged, he began to look for alternatives. Armed with letters of recommendation from Latin jazz icons such as Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader himself, plus invaluable financial help from The U.S. Veterans Administration, Bobby Paunetto was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he would be tutored by vibraphonist Gary Burton, among other professors of music. The subsequent years at Berklee would strengthen his musical foundation, broadening not only his musical abilities but his sensitivity to the time tested trinity of melody-harmony-rhythm, adding more texture and depth to his compositions. 

Mr. Paunetto graduated from Berklee in 1973 and immediately set out to form his own record label, Pathfinder Records. His brother Raymond would be his partner, and future music legends from his home base, New York City, would be his support team. The synthesis of intellect and emotion displayed in his work would be long remembered by all who were involved, but it would also be forgotten within the world of commercialized music. Such is the legacy of a genius.

“Bobby Paunetto was a truly great artist, a well studied musician with big dreams. He loved Cal Tjader’s music and modeled a sextet after his, adding a saxophone later on to make it a septet. I had the privilege of working with him when we both lived in the Bronx and I even recorded with him a few times. We became very good friends and he would often sit in with me in Tito Puente’s band as a percussionist. He is, in fact, the conga drummer on Tito Puente’s version of “Maria Cervantes”, where I played timbales, Juan “Papi” Cadavieco switched to bongoes and Tito handled the vibes. Bobby was a very talented arranger and composer who focused more on the aesthetics of the music than on the commercial or business aspect. His peers will always remember him as a wonderful human being who loved his art and unfortunately, died much too young.”
– John “Dandy” Rodríguez, percussionist

The Later Years

In later life, health problems did not allow Mr. Paunetto to fully develop as a recording and performing artist, and he stopped performing altogether in 1978. He did however, manage to produce two masterpieces during the years between 1974 and 1976. Joining him in those later sessions were Ed Byrne and Todd Anderson (both fellow alumni from Berklee) and luminaries such as drummer Tom Sala and saxophonists Justo Almario and Bill Drewes. He also brought together some of the best percussionists in the New York City area, among them Gene Golden and Jerry González. Below is a brief review of these classic gems.

Paunetto’s PointCommit To Memory

(Pathfinder Records, PLP-1775, 1975 and PLP-1776, 1977) 

The aforementioned albums contained material that was both fresh and innovative (and quite inspiring for that matter), yet they remained relatively unknown (much like Bobby’s earlier work). That all changed in 1998, when a double CD reissue combined the two albums (Paunetto’s Point and Commit To Memory) and brought Bobby’s music to a new generation of jazz lovers.

His main inspiration for the former had to have been Cal Tjader, and there are moments in that album that are very reminiscent of Cal. Curiously, the title track (“Paunetto’s Point”) was featured in a 1962 recording by Cal for the Verve label (In A Latin Bag). On the latter album by Bobby the results are much more original. The music on this album is often unpredictable, with a number of movements occurring simultaneously, de-emphasizing the dance element that was so characteristic of early latin jazz artists like Tjader, Mongo, Gutiérrez and Mann. 

On Paunetto’s Point the material is just as creative, albeit not as busy. It’s the difference between a chamber orchestra and a full blown symphony. “Brother Will”, “A Hybrid Situation”, “Paunetto’s Point”, “In Time’s Time”, “Sognord”, “Fenwey Funk”, “Osiris” and “Heavy on the Bacon” are masterpieces in their own right, and should also be considered as required listening for jazz lovers. Together, these two albums are colossal. If one listens to this reissue, the music sounds fresh, yet it was created more than twenty years before the fusion style became popular. Sound-wise, Fred Weinberg features prominently on the technical end of the light-sounding former, while the dense Commit To Memory is a collaboration between Jim Czak, Todd Anderson and Bobby Paunetto. This album was nominated for a Grammy in 1975-76.

Commit To Memory unites a much larger group of musicians, among them pianists Edy Martínez and Armen Donelian; trumpeter Tom Harrell, the aforementioned Ed Byrne; guitarist John Scofield; saxophonists Todd Anderson and Ronnie Cuber. Close to 40 musicians participated on this album, as opposed to the former recording, although the same horn players participated on both. Bobby contributed the bulk of the originals and is featured in the ensemble, taking some beautiful solos, while generously featuring his sidemen throughout the project. “Spanish Maiden”, “Taz”, “Catalano”, “Dragon Breath”, “Mediterráneo”, “Little Ricco’s Theme”, “Delta”, “Coral” and “Good Bucks” all take on a life of their own, while remaining true to the overall concept of the producer, composer and arranger Bobby Paunetto. This is his masterpiece, for sure.  

Paunetto’s Point

(Pathfinder Records, PLP-1775, 1975)

Tracks list – 1. Brother Will; 2. A Hybrid Situation; 3. Paunetto’s Point; 4. In Time’s Time; 5. Sognord; 6. Fenway Funk; 7. Osiris; 8. Heavy On Dee Bacon.

Personnel – Bobby Paunetto, vibraharp, cencerro (cowbell), acoustic and electric piano; Tom Sala, drums; Fred Munar, timbales and bell tree; Andy González, bass, bell tree, clave, guiro and assorted bells; Jerry González, tumbadora, chekere and quinto; John Marrero, acoustic and electric piano; Tom Harrel, trumpet and fluegel horn; Ed Byrne, valve and slide trombones; Bill Drewes, soprano, tenor and alto saxes; Todd Anderson, tenor sax and flute; Ron Cuber, baritone and alto sax, flute and bass clarinet.

Guests – Charlie Burnham and Alfredo de La Fé, violins; Ashley Richardson, viola; Ron Lipscomb, cello; Mario Rivera, baritone and tenor sax, flute; Manny Oquendo, tumbadora and cencerro (cowbell); John “Dandy” Rodríguez, songo drums, cencerro (cowbell); Milton Cardona, tumbadora, guiro and clave.

Commit to Memory

(Pathfinder Records, PLP-1776, 1977)

Tracks list – 1. Spanish Maiden; 2. Taz; 3. Catalano; 4. Dragon Breath; 5. Mediterráneo; 6. Little Rico’s Theme; 7. Delta; 8. Coral; 9. Good Bucks.

Personnel – Bobby Paunetto, vibraphone, piano, percussion, musical direction, composition; Tom Harrell, trumpet; Mike Richmond, upright bass; Abraham Laboriel, electric bass; Billy Drewes, soprano, alto and tenor saxes; Glenn Drewes, trumpet, flugelhorn; Armen Donelian, piano; Edy Martínez, piano; Todd Anderson, sax and flute, producer, remixing, mixing, dub engineer; Ronnie Cuber, baritone sax, alto sax, bass clarinet and flute; Ed Byrne, trombone; Tom Sala, drums; Frank Malabé, percussion; Jon Kass, violin and  viola.

Guests – Fred Munar, percussion; John Marrero, acoustic piano, electric piano; John Scofield, guitar; David Eyges, cello; Justo Almario, alto sax; Andy González, upright bass, percussion, restoration supervision; Jerry González, percussion; Steve Thornton, percussion; Eddie “Guagua” Rivera, upright bass; Gary Anderson, saxes and flute; Steve Slagle, flute; Milton Cardona, percussion; Paul Moen, soprano sax; Orpheus Gaitanopoulos, vocals; Gene Golden, percussion; Mario Rivera, baritone sax, tenor sax and flute; Breton Scott, vocals; Manny Oquendo, tumbadora and cowbell; John “Dandy” Rodríguez, percussion; Charlie Burnham, violin; Alfredo de La Fé, violin; Ashley Richardson, viola; Ron Lipscomb, cello; Freddy, percussion.

Jim Czak, producer, engineer, remixing, mixing, restoration supervision; John Post, restoration supervision; Michael Rozek, liner notes; Jeff Schwartz, engineer; Sam Feldman, mastering; Karen Kuehn, photography; Ben Mapp, art direction, design; Walter Vélez, illustration; Warren Evans, mastering; Jodi Petlin, coordination; Yvette Mangual, art direction, design; Robert Arnold, coordination; Fred Weinberg, producer, engineer, remixing.

I can only remember pleasant experiences with Bobby, such as the time when he asked me to put a batá drum on “Good Bucks” during the “Commit To Memory” session. He informed to me that there wasn’t anyone else available to do the other parts, so I said that I would do all three parts. It was a first in Latin Jazz.
– Gene Golden, master drummer and folklorist

Concepts In Unity

Paunettos’ work as the arranger on the two Pathfinder albums has garnered a million and one accolades, but very little has been said or written about his arrangement of Cuban sonero Alberto Ruíz’ “Corta El Bonche”, featured on Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino’s second recording Lo Dice Todo. Worthy of mention is the fact that Bobby had already recorded “Bonche” on his own album Paunetto’s Point and that by this point he had re-arranged it again to fit the style of the more ethnic sounding group. This classic guaracha is considered by many to be one of the highlights of the short-lived group, along with “Cuba Linda”, from their initial release Concepts In Unity. Folklorico’s version of “Corta El Bonche” differs from Bobby’s, in that it was built upon and around the basic charanga format – brought to life by the violinists Alfredo de la Fé, Noel de Costa, Gail Dixon, and cellist Ron Libscomb – to which Bobby added some very unorthodox jazz harmonies to the already bottom-heavy rhythmic pattern. There is a lot going on in this number; guaguancó for the opening bars and some danzón patterns as well, and human voices that fluctuate from singing in harmony to unison. “Corta El Bonche” is a total work of art, and anyone with an ear for structure can hear that the musicians worked it to perfection, sidestepping the descarga format and adhering to the arrangement (without losing the free style sound that was prevalent throughout the rest of the album). This was very typical of New York based arrangers, who were more than willing to give the old Cuban standards a new face by re-vamping the standard form and structure. The line-up was also stupendous; trombonists José Rodríguez and Reinaldo Jorge; flautist Gonzalo Fernández; trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros; vocalists Willie García, Virgilio Martí, Marcelino Guerra, Heny Alvarez and Rubén Blades; tres player Nelson González; pianist Oscar Hernández and bassist Andy González. The percussionists were Gene Golden, Frankie Rodríguez, Julito Collazo, Milton Cardona, Frank Malabé and Jerry González.

I had the honor of meeting Bobby Vince Paunetto when I was an up and coming musician in NY. Bobby’s music had an indelible effect on me and would be an influence on me that has lasted me till this day. Bobby would come over my house and play my piano for hours on end. His passion and unique harmonic sense of composing and arranging were magical. These qualities are evident on all of his recordings which I still listen to. I was very fortunate to have him as a friend and mentor. He asked me to put a batá drum on “Good Bucks” during the “Commit To Memory” session. He informed to me that there wasn’t anyone else available to do the other parts, so I said that I would do all three parts. It was a first in Latin Jazz.
– Oscar Hernández, pianist, composer and bandleader

Composer In Public (1996) Reconstituted (1999)

Bobby Paunetto’s last effort as a band-leader was a nonet (three saxophones, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, piano, bass and drums. Because of his illness, performing was quite difficult for Bobby Paunetto, but his mind was intact, and so he baptized them the “Commit to Memory Band” and gave them his blessing. They collectively produced two albums under that name. By the time their second album came out Bobby was 55 years old and unable to perform, but he still continued to write and arrange.

Bobby’s “Commit to Memory Band” comprised some of the New York City area’s most respected sidemen, first-rate players who were given their own spaces in which to shine. Trumpeter Tom Harrell; pianist Armen Donelian and bassist Mike Richmond; pianist Bill O’Connell; sax men Todd Anderson, Gary Smulyan and Billy Drewes; trumpeter Glenn Drewes; trombonist Larry Farrell and drummer John Riley are among those who shine on these recordings. There are several dedicative numbers and a few songs that suggest “smooth jazz”, yet they are well executed and hardly devoid of feeling. 

Their first album was a CD titled Composer In Public. They were billed as Bobby Vince Paunetto & The C.T.M. Band (CD – 1777, NYC, 1996). All the tunes were written, arranged and conducted by Bobby. The production was handed by Bobby Paunetto, Denny Bridges and Todd Anderson.

One of maestro Tito Puente’s most privileged students, Bobby Vince Paunetto, was influenced by such greats as Cal Tjader, whom he referred to as a friend. He marked a great milestone in the history of Latin Jazz, and the idiom recognizes him as one of its most representative exponents, both in terms of talent and through the quality of his sound. He proposed a modernistic approach for his time and it is only now, several decades later, that he has come to receive the recognition he deserves.
– Rolando Posada, “Salsa y Timbal” publication, Medellin, Colombia
– Translation from Spanish by Chico Alvarez Peraza

Composer In Public

Tracks list – 1.  You’re Jiving me Crazy; 2.  Movies; 3.  Bottle The Edge; 4.  Romancing A Whisper; 5. When I Got Disconnected; 6.  Composer In Public; 7.  The Beautifully Flawed Game; 8.  You’re A Wonderment; 9.  Say It Now; 10.The Foundlings; 11.Jacket Lusteners; 12. If Yes…; 13.Love Seems To Find (The One That Brings It Home).

Personnel – Bill O’ Connell: piano and Yamaha DX7; Armen Donelian: piano, Yamaha DX7 and Roland electric piano; Mike Richmond: acoustic bass; Chip Jackson: acoustic and electric bass; John Riley: drums; Bill Bickford: guitar and vocals; Glenn Drewes: flugle horn and trumpet; Billy Drewes: flute, soprano and tenor sax; Todd Anderson: flute and tenor sax; Gary Smulyan: baritone sax and bass clarinet; Jon Kass: violins and viola; Christine Gummere: cello; Madeline Kole: vocals; Devorah Segall: vocals; Ann Belmont: vocals and guitar; Bobby Vince Paunetto: vibes (Degan Royal Aurora), vibes synthesizer and Yamaha DX7.

CD Composer In Public [1999], cover photo courtesy of David Cantrell.

Bobby Vince Paunetto was a gifted composer/arranger whose music stands the test of time. His beautiful melodies soar and he provides gorgeous backgrounds for soloists. His music speaks to what a kind and sensitive man he was. We spent many evenings listening to cassette tapes of new compositions that he was planning to record. It’s a shame he died so young. He had so much more beautiful music to give to the world.
– Marty Sheller, arranger and composer


Tracks list – 1.  Silva! Horn! And Down Pat!; 2.  Reconstituted; 3.  Foreign Glasses; 4.  Slovenly Hilled Curves; 5.  Dirt Cheap Meets Dirt; 6.  In The Harbor Of Cádiz; 7.  Jazz For The Silent Majority; 8.  Turning On The Memories; 9.  Emotional Currency; 10.The Contra Bean; 11.Co-Hearsed; 12.My Brother The Great!

Personnel – Bobby Paunetto, composer, arranger, conductor and producer; Todd Anderson, sax and flute; Tom Harrell, trumpet; Larry Farrell, trombone; Glen Drewes, trumpet; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax and bass clarinet; Billy Drewes, soprano and alto saxes, flute and drums; Bill O’Connell, acoustic and electric pianos; Mike Richmond, contrebass; John Riley, drums.

CD Reconstituted [1999], cover photo courtesy of David Cantrell

Robert Vincent Paunetto passed away in 2010, on the 10th of August, in the same city that saw him take his first breath of life. He had been suffering for many years with multiple sclerosis. During the fifteen years prior to his death, hundreds of emerging young artists, writers and jazz lovers failed to take notice, leaving Mr. Paunetto in a sort of latin/jazz limbo. His anonymity was due in part to a lack of exposure and/or promotion (he was after all, the sole owner of an independent label, a rarity in those days). 

The good news is that in recent years, an emerging network of jazz collectors around the world (via the internet) have begun to set the record straight and make things right for Mr. Paunetto. Their criteria is the same as Bobby’s; to let them (the public) hear the music with their minds and not just with their feet. Let them savour the beauty of the ensemble, the genius of the composer and the artistry of instrumentalist, rather than just dance madly to a beat. Like Bobby, they wish to bring to both musician and aficionado alike an appreciation for the art of arranging, rather than focus their attention on fancy footwork or repetitive (but catchy) lyrics. Bobby Paunetto’s outlook on music (his “point” of view, if you will) was in tune with all three basic human elements – body, mind and spirit. From the very beginning of his independent recording career his goal had been to surround himself with true artists, dyed-in-the-wool jazz lovers like himself; with the same capabilities and sensibilities as his; cats who spoke the same (musical) language and adhered to the same type of discipline as he did; cats capable of deep expression and inner soul. Individually and collectively they had to be able to move and lure the listener away from the dance floor and into a more cerebral space. 

Judging from the music that made it onto the grooves, Bobby Paunetto achieved that goal. He drew the best out of each and every one of the musicians that he recorded with. Their collective input made Paunetto’s music vivid, imaginative and stimulating to the intellect, while providing nourishment to the soul. The music drew from many different cultures, but it was by no means a heterogeneous ethnic mix. The musicians were as diverse in their backgrounds as anywhere in the world, but this was no hotchpotch. 

It may have originated in Bobby’s multi-cultural mind, but it was the musicians who made the whole thing viable. They kept it down to earth too. They set the body to movin’ and the feet to tappin’, yet this was no mere commercial manifestation of the roots, or a fad to capitalize on while it was still “hot”. Nor was it some sort of sophisticated society jive. It was a beautiful music, just like Bobby Paunetto envisioned it, and it would prove to be timeless.

Whenever musicians would arrive at one of Bobby’s sessions, they invariably felt alive and enthused; they shared his vision as to what the music would ultimately sound like and each took home an equal amount of pride and satisfaction. And, like most musicians do when listening to a “take”, the avid listener would invariably take notice, and proclaim “oh yeah!”. Even the most average of fans would succumb to the sheer musicality of it all. As a young man listening to these albums for the first time over forty years ago, I felt that Mr. Paunetto had indeed made his point, and in that sense I guess that he was also a great producer. He had the gift of communicating to the musician and the audience, and that ability was also at the core of his music. One can only speculate as to what course his career might have taken had he signed with a major label, or, if he had not succumbed to such an awful ailment as multiple sclerosis. 

The entire musical community in New York and elsewhere was deeply saddened when Bobby passed on. Icons like Golden, García, Martínez, Donelian, Almario, Byrne and Cuber (among so many others who were strongly influenced by this mild-mannered genius), have each kept alive, in their own way the music of Bobby Paunetto.

Bandleader, vocalist, composer, graphic artist and radio personality Ernesto "Chico" Álvarez Peraza has been performing as a singer and percussionist throughout the New York City tri-state area for the last four decades. Leader of conjunto Mafimba and The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band, he was also the host and producer of New World Gallery, an eclectic world music radio show which had been airing over WBAI Pacifica Radio (99.5 FM) for more than 25 years.



  1. Robert Losick

    Feb 15, 2021 at 12:37 am

    I had the pleasure of presenting Bobby and his orchestra one Thursday night at St Peter’s in the late 70’s. He was already having trouble getting around, but the band members and I loved the guy and his music. I heard his albums on the radio with DJ Ed Beach.

  2. Tony Corman

    Feb 27, 2021 at 11:40 am

    I met Bobby in Boston in ’75. I didn’t get to know him well, but in our first conversation, he pretty much saved my musical soul: I was playing sax in a show band, and wound up playing the Al Martino Soow, in the orchestra. I was 20, hadn’t been playing very long, couldn’t really read music, had never played a show… I was pretty much a rock and blues guy but the bandleader put me in to save himself some money. The band was otherwise staffed with Berklee heavies, so I was way outgunned, screwing up right and left. The music director was a very sarcastic guy, and was calling me out in front of everyone, and it hit me hard – I’d been pretty down anyway and this was the capper.

    For some reason, Bobby was at the rehearsal, even though he wasn’t playing the show, and in the break we met and started talking, He’d just recorded Paunetto’s Point, and he told me about the music and the band, and it sounded pretty wonderful. When he asked me what I was up to, I told him I was thinking of bailing out of music, maybe go back to school and teach middle school Spanish or something. He looked shocked and said “You can’t do that: you love music.”

    Boy, the truth of that went right to my heart. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew he was right, that giving up would be untrue to who I was and what I wanted. It was one of the most helpful, heartfelt things anyone ever said to me, and that was that. I stayed in it, though I ended up working days in software, losing my sax chops to a motor disorder and taking up guitar at age 50, and various other inevitable setbacks. No regrets.

    I heard his band in NYC a couple of times, talked to him then. I still have the “Commit to Memory” ballpoint pen he gave me! Years later I wrote a tune called “What Bobby Said,” which I recorded with my quintet. Now, collaborating remotely, I’m finishing up a big band version of that tune and the scans you sent me will go into the video for the tune. I wish I’d known him better, and he probably never knew what a kindness he did for me, but I will never forget it.

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